I’m very much for creative license and freedom to experiment in beer, but I think most of us can agree that as consumers, styles designations are incredibly helpful. Happily, there are so many styles and sub-styles of beer! Most of us have a preference for certain ones–knowing the general range of flavors, aromas, carbonation and mouthfeel of the beer you’re ordering is a helpful tool. You wouldn’t feel so confident in the taste of a pilsner if it poured brown, now would you? No way. You’d assume it was someone else’s beer, and send it back. Just like any other food product, different malts have different flavors mostly based on their level of roast or caramelization.
Ah, the helles lager. Munich’s answer to the craze of the Czech pilsener, slightly more malt focused and breathlessly clean–in fact, “helles” translates to “bright” in German. A bright lager for all your food pairing desires. And it is certainly versatile. You could put this beer on the table with many classic European cuisines and it wouldn’t be out of place. But I have a different idea in mind: hummus! A middle-eastern classic and a contemporary Western convenience/party food favorite, the lovely combination of garbanzo, tahini, lemon, garlic and salt…a hearty plant-focused snack. So it’s likely you’ve had hummus on a table with other dips and spreads alongside whatever beer was on offer–but I’m making a case for the helles lager today.
As the weather turns to sunny and warm, I inevitably start craving different styles of beer. A lot of the world has no problem drinking stouts all year long, and lagers and lightweight IPAs are always great during summer, but my thoughts mostly turn to effervescent saisons and witbiers. The east coast has an ongoing enjoyment of cream ales, amber lagers and white beer, but over here on the west side a good wit isn’t always easy to find. Wits are often overshadowed by hoppier ales or worse, suffer from an association with the few prominent macro white beer brands that occupy a large space on shelves and in bars. Witbiers have a long, interesting history, involve real creativity, recipe balancing and often complicated brewing methods.
So, it’s not exactly tomato soup weather today. It’s a beautiful and sunny warm (some might even say “hot”) day in the NW. There are those of us out there for whom soup knows no season, though. So put this pairing away for a gloomy day (you never know when those will pop up here) or nab it now for a quick and easy and satisfying lunch or weeknight dinner idea. 30 minute meals are better with beer, am I right?
Except for a few notable styles, the majority of beer is a beverage best enjoyed fresh. It’s a natural product containing a variety of fermented malted grains and some residual yeast and hop matter. While a some larger breweries may choose to pasteurize their beer for longer shelf-stability, most craft beer as a finished product is a little more “alive,” and has instead either rested long enough in the tank (lagered) to be clear, undergone a fining or filtering process or has been centrifuged to remove larger matter that could contribute to a shorter timeline of decent flavor and appearance for you the consumer.
Black-eyed peas are wonderful legumes. Despite not being the most photogenic food, they are earthy, sweet, versatile, easy to cook–no wonder they have a solid place in American cuisine. You’re most likely to find them in southern or soul food recipes, but they go great with lots of accompaniments (or as an accompaniment). P.S. They go great with cornbread! Because they are so sweet, I usually like to make them with a decent amount of vegetables in the pot, and especially with peppers. The grassy flavor really works for them. So what to drink with black-eyed peas? Well, your first thought is probably some sort of lager, which wouldn’t be wrong, especially alongside a richer barbecue plate. But I like matching like with like sometimes (which can be tricky) so I am recommending you try a bière de garde as complement. A bière de garde is an old-school French style of ale that is meant for “keeping” as the language indicates. It’s usually somewhat malty (this one I chose, a homebrewed version, is a bit darker in color and flavor) and most examples have a nice level of yeast flavor and esters included. Versions really vary, but this is the basic profile.
At this point in craft beer’s lively existence, many avid imbibers are aware that most beer should be consumed fresh. As in, as fresh as possible. There are some styles that fare well or even better with some age, and although that segment of the industry has grown exponentially in recent times, the vast majority of beer sold is designed to be consumed within a general rule of 90 days after packaging. Unfortunately, I frequently see bars, bottle shops and friends hang onto beer for far longer. I’m by no means trying to shame anyone who never knew or mistakenly shoved a lost can in the back of their fridge for x number of months, but it’s a point of respect to the brewery and all those who got their product to yours truly to know, understand, and consume within a peak timeline. Wouldn’t you always want to have the best you could have? Of course you do! So how do you make the most of beer? Let’s get to the gist of it, friends.
More classics. An old one and a new one. There are many schools of cornbread, but to me there’s one true winner: all-cornmeal buttermilk skillet cornbread with lard or bacon fat. The dusty, sweet, rich and tart flavors are real comfort food. You could certainly drink a lager or an amber with cornbread, but I’d like to make an argument for an IPA. Because IPA needs a voice, right? Joking. But really, IPAs do have a place at the table–and we can place them thoughtfully.
Malted barley has many forms. In brewing, we speak of two categories: base malts and specialty malts. A base malt is the main star: a nicely modified, malted grain that easily converts its starches to sugar in the right environment (the mash). Base malts absolutely have signature flavors and characters–but specialty malts are, for lack of better word–special. Typically used in a much smaller percentage within a recipe, they contribute stronger flavors: caramel, roast, nutty, smoky, bready or toasty characters, for example. The expression of these flavors depends greatly upon type. It’s good to note that specialty malts are not required to make a (good) beer–in fact, some notable beers are brewed with just one base malt (say, a SMASH, many English Barleywines, some pilsners, Märzens, etc.). But there are lots of great options to add additional flavors from said specialty malts. Who wouldn’t want more flavor to play with!
Since the weather’s been ridiculous and wintery lately I’ve been spending more of my time watching movies–and more recently, the Olympics! Obviously the best snack with screen time is popcorn, and I especially love homemade popcorn. It’s far fresher and you can customize the seasoning and add flavors of choice. A number of beers would go nicely with popcorn, but I really enjoy a crisp pilsner alongside.